For several months we’ve covered The Hunger Games adaptation casting rumor mill – with Director Garry Ross (Seabiscuit) finally selecting the Academy Award nominated actress, and X-Men: First Class alum, Jennifer Lawrence as the teenage warrior Katniss Everdeen.

When Lionsgate Entertainment officially confirmed Lawrence had been cast as Everdeen, loyal fans of The Hunger Games series took to the Internet in frustration. Now, Ross is speaking out in order to address some of the concerns.

For anyone unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old living in a post-apocalyptic county Panem (which used to be the United States). Instead of a democracy, Panem is comprised of twelve impoverished districts which are ruled by a wealthy central city/government the Capitol. As punishment for a prior rebellion the Capitol established the Hunger Games, a televised event that forces each district to send one boy and one girl to fight to the death – against similarly selected youth from other districts each year. When her sister, Primrose, is selected for the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

In response to the mounting fan-frustration generated by the news that Jennifer Lawrence would be portraying Katniss, Ross spoke with Entertainment Weekly to shed some light on why he chose the Winter’s Bone actress – confirming that Hunger Games’ author Suzanne Collins approved of the choice:

“First, I saw Winter’s Bone, and I just thought she was phenomenally talented and just kind of riveting and amazing and had so much power. And then we had a meeting and I found her to be just a completely compelling, intelligent person. But then she came in and read for me and it just knocked me out. I don’t want to go into too many details, but we did a scene from the movie and it was so amazingly powerful that it was sort of stunning. You glimpsed every aspect of the role and the potential of the whole movie.”

The primary, and by far the most valid, concern raised by fans is the undeniable fact that Jennifer Lawrence is several years older than Katniss in the novels (Lawrence is 20). Kick-Ass star Chloe Moretz had often been rumored as a potential front-runner for Everdeen – as the actress a) is only fourteen years old and b) had previously displayed a remarkable commitment to both the charm and brutality of Hit Girl – a balance that would be necessary for The Hunger Games protagonist.

In regards to an older actress playing Katniss, Ross said:

“First of all, I talked to Suzanne extensively about this. Suzanne saw every single audition. And not only did Suzanne not have an issue with Jen’s age, she felt you need someone of a certain maturity and power to be Katniss. This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can’t have an insubstantial person play her, and we can’t have someone who’s too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young. In Suzanne’s mind, and in mine, Katniss is not a young girl. It’s important for her to be a young woman. She’s a maternal figure in her family. She’s had to take care of Prim, and in many ways her mother, since her father’s death. She’s had to grow up pretty quickly.”

There’s no doubt there are plenty of parallels between Katniss and Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree in Winter’s Bone. However, another criticism levied against Ross’ choice has to do with Lawrence’s ethnicity – as it has been hinted, in the books, that Everdeen is multiracial. Only two months back, casting rumors suggested that True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld, who is not only fourteen but also part-Filipino, was in the running for the part.

Ross downplayed the notion that Katniss’ race has any significant bearing on her journey in the books, focusing on other characters that he and Collins felt needed to possess a concrete cultural identity:

“Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American. Suzanne had no issues with Jen playing the role. And she thought there was a tremendous amount of flexibility. It wasn’t doctrine to her. Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that’s something movies can easily achieve. [Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color.”

There’s no doubt that the casting of Jennifer Lawrence will certainly alter The Hunger Games story a bit – however, as we mentioned in our article, Should Hollywood Listen to Fanboys About Comic Book Movies?, die-hard fans need to understand that, while a director wants to stay true to the source material, they’re also in charge of making sure that the film isn’t just a good adaptation – it’s a great movie that will appeal to a much larger audience than just fans of the books. In this case, that must have meant resisting the temptation to show a bunch of young-looking teens slaughtering each other on the big screen in a PG-13 movie.

While it’ll be interesting to see how Gary Ross intends to keep the horror of the main story – teenagers fighting to the death – intact (despite Lawrence being older); however, fans of the series might want to calm down and, instead of being angry, celebrate that a talented actress like Lawrence is excited about the role. As she’ll undoubtedly be able to bring the requisite, but chilling, character balance Katniss deserves.

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you think of the Jennifer Lawrence casting as well as the director’s reasoning.

The Hunger Games is currently eying a March 23rd, 2012 release date.

Source: Entertainment Weekly